Cocaine (commonly called “coke” or “blow”) is a powerful central nervous system stimulant derived from the leaves of the South American coca plant. It made its way into America many years ago, but still remains a “luxury” drug amongst our population—primarily for young adults. In 2013, there were 1.5 million current cocaine users aged 12 or older, and young men between 18-25 were found most likely to abuse the drug.
The average age of cocaine initiation is 20 years old. The drug often appeals to young adults because of its ability to give a person a sense of importance. For young professionals, it allows them to stay awake through the night after a long day’s work. Some teens take advantage of the fact that cocaine suppresses appetite, and use it as a weight loss aid.
Cocaine is a fine, white powder that is generally snorted through nasal passages or injected intravenously. Once consumed, cocaine instantly enters the bloodstream and brain passages, producing a high that can last anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes. Its effects are fleeting yet extreme. Cocaine users often feel a temporary illusion of power, of invincibility, and a boost of energy and euphoria. Cocaine highs, as with most stimulants, are short-lived and side effects are not always outwardly apparent. As a result, many people today do not take cocaine abuse seriously.
Cocaine’s intense high, however, is nearly always followed by a dramatic low: depression, agitation, and severe cravings resurface. Users resultantly try to sustain their high by binging. They repeatedly take the drug in high doses and in short periods of time. A tolerance builds; an addiction develops.
Regardless of the way it is administered or the form it takes, cocaine enters the bloodstream rapidly and has an instantaneous effect on the brain. Recent studies have found that cocaine significantly alters a user’s brain structure and composition. The brain’s reward system expands due to an overwhelming production of dopamine, disrupting brain communication and leading the user to crave cocaine uncontrollably. This compulsion to take the drug has been proven as a physical ailment: research has shown that cocaine abuse actually diminishes the brain’s grey matter with repeated use, making users even more vulnerable to addiction and its effects.
If your loved one is abusing cocaine, it is extremely important that you understand the potential risks of his drug activity. With repeated use, a user will experience both physical and psychological consequences. Cocaine abuse can increase a user’s blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, and body temperature, and further lead to heart attack, stroke, and respiratory failure. In fact, cocaine-related deaths are most often caused by cardiac arrest or respiratory arrest. Due to the dramatic impact that cocaine has on the brain, a user can also experience fatal brain seizures. These risks grow when you add other substances into its mix. It has been revealed that the leading poly-drug cause of death is the toxic combination of cocaine and alcohol.
Warning Signs of Cocaine Addiction
Cocaine addiction is both psychologically and physically addictive. With continued use, a person becomes susceptible to quickly developing a tolerance. The drug will not produce the same euphoric effects as it did originally, and a user will increase his dosages or making drug-seeking an ultimate priority. Because cocaine is one of the most expensive drugs on the market today, those abusing the drug often experience great financial loss, but because of their addiction, will continue to use regardless of the consequences.
If your teen is abusing cocaine and has recently lost touch with his priorities, his friends and family, or reality in general, he may be developing what is called “cocaine psychosis.” This can lead to violent or paranoid behavior, anxiety or depression, hallucinations, delusions, and "coke bugs"—a sensation of insects crawling over the skin.
Other side effects of cocaine abuse:
- A suppressed appetite, leading to malnutrition
- Frequent nose bleeds/nasal damage
- Interrupted sleep patterns
- Cardiovascular problems
- Heart palpitations
- Tremors or seizures
- Chest Pains
- High blood pressure
- Muscle twitches
- Panic attacks
- Increased appetite
- Slowed thinking and movement
Cocaine Addiction Treatment
Because cocaine users are primarily psychologically dependent on the drug, cocaine addiction treatment must address the thoughts and behaviors that lead to substance abuse. For instance, group and individual therapies can be extremely effective at revealing the true cause of a cocaine addiction—what is triggering this drug abuse, and how can a person prevent it from growing? At Turning Point, we’ve found that both behavior-cognitive therapies and a 12-Step facilitation are successful for treating cocaine addiction in young men. Through these, young adults learn how to replace cravings with healthier outlets. Through long-term, inpatient treatment, they can also build supportive relationships necessary to maintaining a sober lifestyle.